Only a handful of Wii games can boast the hardcore pedigree of MadWorld. The first title by upstart studio Platinum Games (the reincarnation of Clover Studio, responsible for such sleeper hits as Viewtiful Joe and Okami), it features a striking cel-shaded art style, a protagonist with an iconic weapon (mechanic/ex-Marine Jack Cayman and his slightly impractical yet immensely gratifying retractable, arm-mounted chainsaw) and more blood than a Takashi Miike horror flick. It also provides a vehicle for some of the most hilariously vulgar voice work I’ve ever heard in a videogame, courtesy of veteran actors John DiMaggio and Greg Proops.
So why does it remind me of Cooking Mama?
First, there’s the obvious: Much of MadWorld focuses on the gritty mechanics of chopping things into tiny pieces, rending flesh from bone and placing the resulting chunks into a receptacle for further preparation. Sure, you’re dealing with street thugs, ninjas and zombies (among other enemy types) rather than Cornish hen and sea bass, but both games give you the satisfaction of chopping away, combining ingredients and gleefully presenting your creation to the world. In Cooking Mama it’s a delicious seafood curry; in MadWorld, it’s the severed torso of a zombie with a lamppost sticking out of its neck, feebly attempting to wriggle its way off the spiked wall on which you just impaled it.
While Mama forces you to follow the recipe, however, MadWorld encourages you to improvise. Chaining together a string of maneuvers on a single victim multiplies the amount of points you get for the kill. These aren’t just for bragging rights; you need to reach a certain score before you can progress through a level. With a hard time limit for each zone, it makes sense to get creative – you could run around slashing enemies with your chainsaw (a one-hit kill in most cases), but you’ll earn points more quickly if you use your environment to maim, mulch and otherwise murder your opponents.
I’ll admit to getting a little squeamish when cutting up a whole octopus in World Kitchen, but (PETA’s exceptions aside) it’s nothing compared to the level of brutality in MadWorld. There are so many unique ways to kill people that you could spend hours with the game and still find yourself shocked at a new finishing move. Each zone introduces new items to immobilize your victims, pointy objects to jam into their necks and subtle accents like spinning blades, iron spikes or grinding gears that serve no other architectural purpose than to bring about as many horrifying “accidents” as possible. Grab a stunned enemy and walk up to one of these objects, and the game offers you the option to instantly (and stylishly) murder your victim with a quick downward motion of the Wii remote.
That last point highlights perhaps the most crucial similarity between Platinum Games’ bloody brawler and Taito’s quaint Japanese cooking sim: Both games get motion controls right. MadWorld is brimming with short mini-game-esque finishing moves that require a quick Wii remote gesture – a downward swipe, a lasso-like spin or, in (not so) rare cases, a sustained shaking motion. These finishers could have been tedious and flow-breaking, but instead they’re provide many of the MadWorld‘s most jaw-dropping moments. They up the ante on your wild gesticulations by offering some of the most over-the-top, gruesome kill sequences to appear in a videogame – often ridiculous enough to make you entirely forget you’re flailing around a couple pieces of plastic like a goddamn madman. In that respect, it passes the Rock Band Fun Test (“the more you look like a complete ass while playing, the more fun you’re likely having”) with flying colors.
MadWorld‘s superb voice work only adds to the carnival atmosphere. Play-by-play commentator Howard “Buckshot” Holmes (Who’s Line Is It Anyway?‘s Greg Proops) and color commentator Kreese Kreeley (Futurama‘s John DiMaggio) provide a constant backdrop of profanity-laden banter for the action. It has an off-the-cuff, improvised feel that is absent from most videogame voiceovers. It also has more drug references, crude sexual jokes and curse words than a George Carlin stand-up routine. If the footage of the game doesn’t make it obvious, you might want to consider playing this game away from younger ears (and eyes).
That said, MadWorld‘s violence isn’t nearly as shocking as other recent high-profile titles’ like Manhunt or Condemned. Ingeniously, the game’s Sin City-inspired palette (where the only color is blood red) and comic bursts of onomatopoeia (“splorch!” is a favorite) drain the game world of any hints of realism and let you to revel in the carnage guilt-free. If the hazardous décor didn’t tip you off, it’s clear from the near complete absence of noncombatants and the endless waves of street thugs that the residents of Varrigan City never really led normal lives to begin with.
Your aggression isn’t completely uninhibited, however. MadWorld‘s most wearisome flaw is its camera, which occasionally comes between you and your intended target. Against traditional enemies, it’s bearable – the odds are pretty stacked in your favor, anyway. But in boss fights, losing your target gets tiresome. There’s an option to lock onto an enemy, but it’s exceedingly finicky – one moment you’ll have the boss dead in your sights, the next moment you’re staring at a wall with your opponent closing in from behind you.
This minor defect is easy to forgive, however. MadWorld is actually a notable accomplishment, especially for a developer’s first title: Not only is it the rare game that hardcore gamers will actually want to dust off their Wiis for, but it’s the rare AAA game that has learned a thing or two from its casual brethren. The Wii remote might not give you the precision of a gamepad, but used correctly, it gets you involved in a way that a standard controller simply can’t – whether you’re frying up a plate of croquettes or a stack of squirming ninja torsos.
Bottom Line: MadWorld blends the hardcore conceits of games like Manhunt and Smash TV with the gesture-based mini-games of Cooking Mama – and amazingly, it works.
Recommendation: Buy it.
Jordan Deam accidentally struck his girlfriend no less than three times while reviewing MadWorld. Maybe videogames actually do cause violence.